Friday, December 22, 2006

Supportive housing for emancipated youth

State plan designed to reclaim homeless
Housing, services would be blended as Louisville does now
Green, Marcus. Louisville Courier-Journal, Jan. 7, 2006, pg. A1.

For about 10 years, Tanya Rucker was an addict without a home, staying with friends or in shelters or boarding houses when she could find a spot - and on the streets when she couldn't.

But the past three years, Rucker has lived in a tidy, one-bedroom apartment in Louisville's Highlands, part of a city program that provides affordable housing and help to homeless women.
"If I didn't have this type of setting..I could easily relapse, because drugs are everywhere," said Rucker, 45, who works occasionally at a fast-food restaurant and pays 30 percent of her income in rent.

More affordable housing - especially apartments whose residents are offered such help as counseling and transportation to substance-abuse meetings - is a thrust of a sweeping statewide plan to get roughly 2,500 chronically homeless Kentuckians off the streets within the next decade.

The plan also calls on Kentucky to develop services to prevent people from becoming homeless, particularly those leaving mental institutions, prison and foster care.

"It would change our entire landscape, basically," said Senlin Ward, community-planning coordinator with Louisville's Coalition for the Homeless. Permanent housing "would change people's lives and make them self-sufficient, which is what" the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "wants and the federal government wants."

Kentucky's Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, developed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher's council on homeless policy, officially will be announced at noon Monday in Frankfort.

The 25-page plan acknowledges that affordable housing won't eliminate chronic homelessness - defined as homelessness that lasts longer than a year or occurs at least four times in three years. It also calls for measures to prevent people from becoming homeless.

The plan identifies 19,000 homeless people in Kentucky, with nearly 60 percent of them in Louisville.

The city's homeless shelters served more than 11,000 men, women and children last year, 500 more than in 2002, according to the latest estimates from the city's homeless coalition.

But federal grants for homeless programs were cut by more than half last year - securing $2.4 million of the $5.8 million requested in part because Louisville lagged behind the national average for moving the homeless into permanent housing.

Since then, Louisville's homeless advocates have made it a priority to move the homeless out of shelters and off the streets. That paid off in December, when local programs received a record $5.5 million in federal HUD grants.

That money will help pay for 56 supportive-housing units, raising Louisville's total to 565. Advocates, however, say that the city needs 3,000.

Homeless advocates say supportive housing keeps the homeless off the streets once they have completed rehabilitation or leave transitional housing.

"It's a foundational piece," said Kathy Dobbins, program director for Wellspring, which operates the building where Tucker lives.

The state's 10-year plan seeks 1,000 transitional housing units and 2,400 permanent sites where the homeless could receive support services on-site or nearby.

Recovery Kentucky, a program to establish 10 drug- and alcohol-treatment centers across the state, will provide the transitional housing.

It will be paid for by $2.5 million in federal tax credits and operated with $3 million from the state C orrections D epartment and $4 million in community development block grants.

It's not clear how the supported housing will be financed. The report says funding "will need to come from federal, state, local and philanthropic sources."

Details on paying for some parts of the plan will be released Monday, said Jodi Whitaker, a Fletcher spokeswoman.

Homeless advocates say the programs could help save money because the homeless will use fewer resources. While the chronically homeless are about one-fourth of Kentucky's homeless population, they use more than half of the available resources, the plan said.

Louisville metro government is paying for research to track the economic impact of the city's homeless population, said Ward, of the Coalition for the Homeless.

A similar study published by University of Pennsylvania researchers in 2002 indicates that the homeless with severe mental illness in New York City used fewer public services once they were moved into supportive housing.

Before that, each homeless person used $40,500 a year in New York City services, such as psychiatric institutions, hospitals and prisons. Those visits dropped sharply after they moved. The savings offset 95 percent of the cost of supported housing, the study found.

Dobbins said similar programs in Louisville have resulted in significant declines in hospitalization, for example, and there's been little turnover once residents move in. "That has definitely been our experience: When people move in they don't move out," Dobbins said.

Diane Thompson is one of them. She has lived in a Wellspring apartment for about four years. Thompson, 37, said she was homeless for about three years and "lost everything" because of alcohol problems.

"Honestly, I'd probably either be in jail or be dead by this point," Thompson said.

Other strategies the state council recommends in its report are:
--Kentucky should create an emergency fund that would pay for rent or mortgage, utilities and other expenses for people or families who may become homeless.

--The Department of Juvenile Justice should broaden a program that offers young offenders alternatives to being placed in the juvenile justice system.

When Kentucky announces its plan Monday, it will join about a dozen other states that have launched formal efforts to end homelessness, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

"There are places where I think there is progress," said Nan Roman, president of the national alliance.

But not everywhere.

Missouri announced its 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness in late 2003, but there has been little progress, said Karia Basta, executive director of that state's committee to end homelessness.

Louisville announced its plan in October 2002. The city's homeless population has increased since, Ward acknowledged. But there have been results, including a bill passed in 2004 to create a pilot project to prevent homelessness by providing planning for people being released from some state institutions.

The state's 10-year plan calls on that project to be the model for other programs throughout Kentucky.

"If we had this plan in place and were able to accomplish what's set out, homelessness would change drastically," Ward said. "It would be reduced significantly."

Recommendations from Kentucky's Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness
--Create more housing for the state's roughly 2,500 chronically homeless - people who have been homeless for more than a year or at least four times in the past three years.

--Add 1,000 transitional housing units and 2,400 permanent units with support services nearby or on-site, such as substance-abuse counseling.

--Develop programs for people at risk of homelessness who are leaving foster care, mental-health facilities or prison.

--Create an emergency fund to pay rent or mortgage payments and cover other expenses for people or families in jeopardy of becoming homeless.

--Broaden a state juvenile-justice program that offers young offenders alternatives to entering the juvenile-justice system.


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